According to the United Nations (UN), every seventh person alive today lives with some form of disability or the other.
In other words, more than 1 billion people in total live with disabliliy. Despite being so numerous, persons with disabilities are still overwhelmingly overlooked in times of emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the world commemorates the International Day of Persons with Disabilities today, the UN has listed five things you need to know about living with a disability during the pandemic.
1. Risk of contracting COVID-19 is higher for persons with disabilities
Washing hands, social distancing and following local health guidelines have been some of the most powerful weapons against the virus. For persons with disabilities, all of these measures are easier said than done. Too often, the life-saving water, sanitation and hygiene facilities are not accessible to persons with disabilities. Social distancing is impossible for those who rely on physical contact to get support. And too little public health information is issued with accessibility in mind.
2. Risk of severe symptoms and death is higher
Persons with disabilities are more susceptible to secondary conditions and co‑morbidities, such as lung problems, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, all of which are extremely dangerous when paired with COVID-19 infections.
Even though they are at more at risk, persons with disabilities find it harder to access health care. Before the pandemic, one in three persons with disabilities couldn’t afford health-care facilities and up to 42% in some countries considered their health condition as poor.
3. Living in institutions increases the risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19
Care homes, where older people with disabilities often make up the lion’s share of residents, found themselves at the frontlines of the pandemic, with higher rates of infections and COVID-19 related death rates that ranged from 19% to as high as 72% in countries where official data is available.
4. Discrimination in accessibility of healthcare and life-saving procedures
In some places that were hard hit by the pandemic, medical staff are forced to make the heart-wrenching decisions of who will receive the limited life-saving facilities, such as intensive care, beds or ventilators. Too often, these decisions are not based on the patient’s individual prognosis, but rather on discriminatory criteria, such as age or assumptions about the quality or value of life.
5. COVID-19 crisis affects persons with disabilities more
Despite the revolutionary surge in remote work, education and entertainment during the pandemic, persons with disabilities are losing jobs, access to education and support services at precipitous rates. They also find themselves at a higher risk of domestic violence in lockdown.